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These are the Best Exercises to Combat the Dangerous Effects of Sitting at Work

These are the Best Exercises to Combat the Dangerous Effects of Sitting at Work

The best exercises for combatting the effects of extended sitting at work

Whether you’re in the office or working from home, sitting for long hours at a desk has long been the norm in corporate jobs. However, we humans were not made to sit, especially for extended periods, and the habit can be incredibly harmful to our long-term health. 

Some researchers are so alarmed they’ve coined the expression “Sitting is the new smoking,” as research finds that excessive sitting is directly linked to 6% of the impact for heart diseases, 10% for breast cancer, and 7% of type 2 diabetes. A 2017 study showed that long periods of sitting—an average of 6.5 hours for employees working an 8-hour shift—were associated with fatigue, hypertension, decreased job satisfaction, and musculoskeletal symptoms in the shoulders, lower back, thighs, and knees.

While creating an ergonomically healthy workspace is an important start, the key to staving off the negative effects of desk work is movement!

These are the top exercises and active stretches to target the areas most harmfully impacted by extended sitting. Try to do a few of them every hour of your workday day to get the most benefits.

Movements for the Neck & Shoulders 

  • Neck rotations: Slowly rotate your head to the right, then to the left, and then back to the center. Repeat 10 times.
  • Shoulder shrugs: Shrug your shoulders up to your ears, then hold for a few seconds before slowly releasing. Repeat 10 times.
  • Shoulder rolls: Make small circles with your shoulders in both directions. Repeat 10 times in each direction.

Stretches for the Back

  • Cat-cow pose: Start on your hands and knees with your back flat. As you inhale, arch your back and look up. As you exhale, round your back and tuck your chin to your chest. Repeat 10 times.
  • Child’s pose: Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart and sit back on your heels. Fold forward from the hips and rest your forehead on the floor. You can either reach your arms forward to extend the stretch through your sides, or you can point them back so your arms are resting parallel to your sides, depending on your comfort level and shoulder mobility. Hold for 30–45 seconds.
  • Cobra pose: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended behind you. Place your palms on the ground under your shoulders and slowly push your upper body off the floor, as high as is comfortable for you. Hold for 30-45 seconds.

Exercises for the Core

  • Plank: Place your forearms on the ground and your body in a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold for 30–60 seconds.
  • Bird dog: Start on your hands and knees. Lift and extend your right arm and left leg out straight. Hold for 5–10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side, and then repeat both sides 2–4 more times.
  • Russian twists: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Either clasp your hands together in front of your belly or (for more of a challenge) use them to hold a weight. Twist your torso to the right, then to the left. Repeat 10-15 times in each direction. Note: This exercise can put strain on the lower back, so if you have pain or instability there, focus on bird dogs first, and then work up to these twists.

Movements and Exercises for the Hips 

  • Hip circles: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your hands on your hips. Moving from the waist, make small circles with your hips in both directions. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
  • Knee raises: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly raise your right knee towards your chest. Hold for a second, then slowly lower your leg back down. Repeat on the other side, and then repeat both sides 4 more times.
  • Fire hydrants: Get down on your hands and knees. Swing your right out to the side, keeping it bent at a 90° angle. Hold for a second, then slowly lower your leg back down. Repeat on the other side, and then repeat both sides 4 more times.

Stretches and Exercises for the Legs and Knees 

  • Hamstrings stretch: From a seated position on the floor, extend one leg outward and bend forward, as far as is comfortable. Try to bend from the waist and hips rather than curling and hunching your back. Hold for 30–45 seconds and repeat with the other leg. 
  • Forward lunge and twist: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Take a big step forward with your right leg and lower your body until your knee is at a 90° angle. Place your left hand on the floor and carefully extend your right arm towards the ceiling as you twist your belly toward your inner thigh. If you can, try to fix your gaze on the ceiling to extent the twist all the way up to the top of your spine. Hold for 15–30 seconds, remembering to breathe throughout. Then slowly lower your right hand down to the floor, and push yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat on the other side. 
  • Deep squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and place your hands on your hips. Lower your body while pushing your hips backwards, aiming to sink as close to the floor as your knees will comfortably allow. Pause and slowly return to the starting stance. Repeat 9 more times.

Stretches for the Hands and Wrists

  • Wrist flexor stretch: Extend one arm straight out in front of you, palm facing the ground. Bend your wrist so your fingers point at the floor until you feel a moderate stretch in the forearm. Use your other hand to gently pull the pointed fingers back toward your torso to deepen the stretch. Hold 15–30 seconds. Now rotate the outstretched arm so your palm faces the ceiling to do the inverse stretch: Bend your wrist in the opposite direction, using your other hand to gently pull your hand down until it is parallel to your torso. Hold 15–30 seconds, then repeat both stretches with the other arm. 
  • Finger stretch: Stretch your fingers out straight, spread as widely as possible, and hold for 5–10 seconds. Relax the hand for 3–5 seconds, and then repeat up to 4 times for each hand.
  • Prayer stretch: Place your palms together, fingers straight, under your chin in a prayer position. Push your hands down toward your waist, keeping palms glued together until you feel a moderate stretch in the hands and wrists. Hold for 30 seconds. To further stretch the insides of your wrists, you can try rotating your prayer-folded hands until your fingertips point straight down. Repeat up to 4 times.

Other Movements to Support an Excessively Seated Body

  • Walk, walk, walk! Step away from your desk and shake off the stiffness as frequently as you can. Stuck in meetings all day? Dialing into a few by phone so you can stay on your feet without breaking from work. It may even improve your performance and creativity
  • …or at least stand up: Switching to a standing posture while working is, of course, the best solution to “sitting disease,” and the options are more flexible than ever. Even better – add some movement to your standing work with an under-desk treadmill or balance board to keep your body engaged and prevent you from leaning or slouching.
  • Take the stairs: Unless you’re in a 40-story high-rise, the easiest way to sneak exercise into your workday is to ditch the elevator and use the stairs.
  • Spinal posture correctors: Incorporate these ergonomic movements into your day to keep your back—the literal core of your musculoskeletal health—in tip top shape, however you spend your workday.

Can Massage Help Ease the Effects of Extended Sitting?

Massage can be highly effective at helping muscles that are negatively impacted by sitting—particularly those that are adaptively shortened by an extended seated posture. Massage encourages the muscles to reset at a longer length and in a more relaxed state, helping reform the negative postural effects on one’s hips, back, and shoulders.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain in these areas, research shows massage is a powerful, reliable treatment for it. Massage can also revitalize circulation that gets cut off as a result of frequent sitting—just one of the many pathways to disaster that is “sitting disease.” So if you don’t see a standing desk in your immediate future (or even if you do), book a massage today—we’ll come to you.

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